The Iowa City Downtown District (ICDD) has launched ILoveIC Retail Referral Program, a new initiative from the business improvement district is aimed to reward community members for engaging directly with entrepreneurs and experienced independent retail stores that would complement and strengthen downtown Iowa City’s retail cluster. The program provides a $500 reward to those who refer independent store owners to the ICDD that results in a newly signed lease downtown and/or a $10 downtown gift card for any referral that results in an owner contact.
This new referral program is looking to engage those that are already passionate about downtown Iowa City and demonstrate their ability to help welcome others into the market using a non-traditional, grass-roots approach to economic development. “We have an ardent local community that we know wants to support downtown Iowa City. This referral program is a way to let them get more intimate with shaping the community that they love,” said Nancy Bird, Executive Director and retail lead for the organization. “The referral program is intended to reward those that participate with a financial incentive and also provide them with tools for outreach that anyone passionate about this place can use.”
The ICDD will provide a recruitment “kit of parts” to guide participants that includes:
- digital and print retail brochure with downtown Iowa City insights
- Talking points, tips, and direction for store categories sought (from the ICDD Retail Strategy )
- List of support services offered by the Downtown District for new retailers that include:
- a $15,000 build-out grant,
- CoSign+ projecting sign match grants up to $3,000,
- marketing support, and
- complimentary year-round retail delivery services.
- Connection with downtown retail mentors
The ILoveIC Retail Referral Program is one of several new elements added to the organization’s robust retail recruitment strategy. “We are also actively highlighting new retail openings at the request of property owners that want to preserve first-floor commercial space for merchants. Many of these commercial spaces aren’t listed with realtors so we are here to help get the word out,” said Bird. Downtowniowacity.com now features the latest properties and other leasing opportunities.
21 S. Dubuque Street is an example of a prime retail opportunity left open when Daydreams Comics moved to 229 E. Washington Street after Meacham Travel closed their doors during the pandemic. The owner of the space is interested in keeping it in independent retail and would like to see a new operator flourish there. “I typically offer a competitive lease rate because I value a longer-term relationship with a tenant that brings something complimentary of other retail offerings downtown,” said property owner Anne Rizzo. “I’m not the only owner that thinks this way – it’s the long game in real estate management and if the community refers us with leads of stores they would like to see here, that’s a win for everyone.”
The ILoveIC Retail Referral Program will continue through 2021 or until funds are expired. Those wishing to participate in the referral program should first review the Tips on Engaging Retailers, and How to Participate directions. Anyone that makes outreach and connection with an independent retailer on behalf of the program can fill out the submission form with details on the outreach. ICDD staff will then follow up and connect directly with the referred shop. If that shop ends up signing a lease in the Downtown District, the referral will receive $500. In addition, a $10 “thank you” downtown gift card will be given for each referral that results in a response from the store owner.
Bird acknowledged that this pilot program is one that she hopes everyone that loves to shop or travel can have some fun with. “That’s part of this program as well.”